Community Meeting to Be Held in Los Angeles Regarding Mideast

December 3, 2000

Source: Los Angeles Times

On December 3, 2000, the Los Angeles Times reported that "Biola University in La Mirada is set to hold the region's first major town hall meeting on the crisis Monday with Jews, Muslims and Christians. The Christian university's forum--expected to draw 3,000 people under the eyes of extra security guards--will attempt to move beyond finger-pointing to discuss concrete peacekeeping ideas. It reflects what organizers say is the small beginning of a return to dialogue, two months after the outbreak of violence that froze the peace process--and chilled interfaith relations in the Southland as well. 'Either the message of violence or dialogue will reach the community--and we hope it's the message of reaching out,' said Ryan Keating, Biola's forum organizer. Since the Mideast erupted, local efforts to bring parties together have been plagued by conflict. In October, for instance, the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission called off a planned meeting between Jewish and Muslim leaders after intractable conflicts over who would attend...The crisis abroad has strained personal relationships here as well. Rabbi Susan Laemmle, USC dean of religious life, says she felt shocked and betrayed when a Muslim she invited to a university discussion on the issue in October launched into an 'anti-Zionist diatribe.' Likewise, Hussam Ayloush of the Council on American-Islamic Relations says he was stunned when a Jewish acquaintance refused to shake his hand after he spoke at a recent Costa Mesa forum, comparing Israeli policies that discriminate against non-Jews with both Nazi policies and apartheid practices...Ever so slowly, however, the initial shock and anger over the Mideast violence is beginning to give way to glimmers of interfaith action. As Jews, Muslims and Christians mark a rare convergence of their religious holidays this month--Hanukkah, Ramadan and Christmas have not lined up at the same time since 1965--some say the heavenly forces themselves are calling for harmony among the three world religions that commonly regard Abraham as a prophet...'It's been very difficult to do interfaith organizing in the last two months,' said Sonia Tuma of the American Friends Service Committee, the vigil's sponsor. 'In the initial period of fear and anger, people pulled back to conservative positions and felt the need to support whatever group they're affiliated with. But it's been two months now, and I am starting to see people come out again...They feel they have to do something.' In a new national initiative by the Reform movement of American Judaism, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations is set to unveil Monday a three-year, $ 500,000 program to 'educate and mobilize' American Jews on issues of peace and justice in Israel. The campaign, funded by the Ford Foundation, will include efforts to expand Jewish-Arab dialogue here and abroad and sensitize American Jews to the social injustices faced by Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, said project director Esther Lederman. Among other things, the Reform movement initiative will challenge Jewish settlements in Arab areas and suggest that some of Jewish America's philanthropic dollars be shared with Israeli Arabs. Such positions are certain to spark controversy as organizers walk a tightrope between supporting Israel and showing compassion for the other side. The group plans to set up a special Web site, develop curriculum for synagogues and schools and sponsor visits of Israeli Arabs and Jews. Lederman said the union, which represents 1.5 million members, would also try to build better ties with American Muslim and Arab organizations...Keating said organizers of the Biola forum, which is set for 7:30 p.m. in the Chase Auditorium, hoped to nudge the discussion beyond assigning blame to contemplate grace, forgiveness and compassion. One panelist, Glen Stassen of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, will present several peacemaking strategies identified as effective by 23 scholars in his book 'Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War.' They include a reduction in offensive weapons, 'independent initiatives' to build trust--for instance, he said, an Israeli withdrawal from certain Palestinian territories--and repentance."